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Division emerges over Bristol’s first liveable neighbourhood scheme

In a trial later this year, cars will be prevented from driving through a large area of Barton Hill, Redfield and St George. The plans have sparked passionate support and equally intense opposition. 

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“I give these wooden planters six weeks before they’re moved, destroyed or end up in the Feeder.”

Martin, 69, a longtime Barton Hill resident, has come to a drop-in event to give his view on Bristol’s first ‘liveable neighbourhood’ scheme, which will be trialled in the autumn. He is outraged at plans to restrict cars driving through his area and thinks locals will take matters into their own hands.

And yet, just half an hour before, another local resident, Naz Nathoo, came to the same event with his grandchildren to thank council staff for the vital scheme. “I care about the community. And you guys are doing a magical job,” he says. 

Tucked under his arm are photos showing how vehicles rat-running up his narrow street have driven into his house twice in the last three years. “Why should cars come into residential areas when there are kids playing?” he says, exasperated. “There needs to be safety.”

This is just a taster of how divisive restricting cars can be. The East Bristol Liveable Neighbourhood trial in Barton Hill, Redfield and St George will stop traffic cutting through the area via Beaufort Road, Avonvale Road, Marsh Lane and Victoria Avenue, all popular routes for cars trying to avoid Church Road. 

The map of the East Bristol Liveable Neighbourhood trial scheme. Vehicles won’t be able to drive through the area except along Blackswarth Road. Residents and businesses will be able to access the streets via the entry points marked with arrows.

The planned permanent scheme will also include new street lighting, improved crossings, street trees, additional cycle hangars and protected cycle lanes.

The council’s consultation so far has shown initial support for the idea of restricting traffic in the area. But now local people can properly engage with the trial measures, opposition is emerging. 

From concerns about poor public transport options to anger about the Clean Air Zone and how this scheme will affect people with mobility issues, I’ve been speaking to local residents about their hopes and fears for the scheme – Bristol’s first major move to restrict cars across a whole neighbourhood. So, how much work does the council have to do to win over local people?

Too much traffic

Naz Nathoo’s house has been hit by cars twice in the last three years. Credit: Alexander Turner

A main aim of the liveable neighbourhood is to reduce traffic driving through the area. Naz is adamant this has to come to an end. “It’s very busy, there are so many cars,” he tells me. Only that afternoon, he had to stop a truck driving up his narrow street on the corner of Netham Park. 

For Naz, the inconvenience is worth it. “I’ve got a car myself, if it takes me 10 minutes to go all the way around, I’ll do it, to keep everybody safe.”

Angela Wahinya is walking home along Avonvale Road, after picking up her son from the nearby primary school. We chat on the junction with Marsh Lane, which in a few months time will be blocked by two rows of planters. For now, a stream of cars files past. 

“In terms of [reducing] air pollution, that will be a positive, especially for the kids,” she tells me. “But also to reduce the traffic so it feels safer. Sometimes the cars come zooming past really fast.”

Angela Wahinya says there will be inconveniences but she wants the roads to be safer for her son. Credit: Alexander Turner

Angela will no longer be able to easily drive to the local church, which isn’t that big a deal for her because it’s walkable, although others from further afield rely on their cars.

Avonvale Road will be closed to through-traffic, although the 36 bus will continue thanks to a bus gate. “I used to catch the bus, I think it’s a nice way to cut down the pollution,” Angela says. 

“But when the buses stopped being reliable, I started sometimes driving the kids to school,” she adds. “The 36 here is a very bad service. You can’t depend on it.”

This is echoed by Naz, who says: “To wait for a 36, you’re waiting for God.” 

Of the more than 100 readers who answered our survey, we spoke to dozens who live in the area and were in favour of reducing the dominance of cars.

“I will have to drive round but this is worthwhile to stop fast and dangerous drivers,” says Kay Banfield, who lives on a road that will be blocked at one end. “There have been a significant number of recent crashes and it’s just getting worse with the volume of traffic trying to use small residential streets as rat runs.”

Another resident, Siobhan Wright, describes Beaufort Road as “incredibly dangerous” and the scheme as “what is required to make it safe”. She says she will drive less and is happy to “for the greater good”.

Beaufort Road in St George, a popular through route that will be blocked. Credit: Alexander Turner

Liveable neighbourhood ‘going to be a nightmare’

But support for the liveable neighbourhood is far from unanimous. “For people who live here trying to get in and out of their homes, it’s going to be a nightmare,” Martin tells me on his way out of the drop-in event organised by the council at a social club next to Netham Park.

“I can’t see what these changes are going to do other than make life miserable for the people who live here.” He pauses a second, as a woman marches out of the door and says simply: “Biggest load of crap going.”

For Martin, who is 69 and a disabled Blue Badge holder, short essential car trips, such as to the local Aldi, will become much longer. “I’d like to do it on my pushbike, but I have severe arthritis in my knees,” he says. “They’re restricting how people can move around, causing more congestion, but they’ve not given an alternative of a decent public transport system.”

What the junction between Marsh Lane and Avonvale Road looks like today. Credit: Alexander Turner
What the junction between Marsh Lane and Avonvale Road will look like when a ‘pocket park’ is installed to block through-traffic.

Lots of cars go past his house, he adds, breaking the one-way rules already in place. That’s why in his view it would be better to spend the money on enforcing current rules. 

“You have to come and say something – otherwise somebody who wears Lycra or wears a flowery skirt and hugs trees, they’ll say everyone was in favour of it,” he adds, capturing cultural and political concerns that are also in play. There’s been an influx of younger people to the area, who are less likely to drive and more likely to support improving walking and cycling infrastructure. 

‘Anti-car’ agenda

Others feel the scheme is part of an anti-car, climate-obsessed agenda, with many also outraged by the Clean Air Zone. One respondent said: “Disgraceful restrictions on freedom of movement, the climate crisis agenda is not a reason for this nonsense.”

Another reader, Annette, says the scheme is “purely about control, surveillance and fining of cars”, adding that the phrase ‘liveable neighbourhood’ “obfuscates the anti-car intentions of the zone scheme”.

In recent weeks, a leaflet was distributed in St George directing people to the Together Declaration, a group that has campaigned against Covid restrictions, LTNs and most recently London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Co-founder Alan Miller is a frequent guest on right-wing news channel GB News, and has been interviewed on the issue by Nigel Farage and Neil Oliver.

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In recent months, the case of Oxford showed how extreme the opposition to traffic restrictions can become. After its LTN schemes received lots of criticism, 2,000 people protested in February against the idea of a ‘15-minute city’ – where everything you need is only a short walk or bike ride away. Conspiracy theorists said this meant an authoritarian local government confining people in their local area, using sinister surveillance.

While one reader, Imre Rozsner, described the liveable neighbourhood scheme as “totalitarian and crazy”, such ideas seem to have had limited impact in Bristol. Even so, a number of people we spoke to felt the council was restricting important freedoms without adequate support. But what were the other main concerns residents had?

Pushing traffic onto other roads?

One recurring worry was that the liveable neighbourhood will push the traffic onto surrounding roads, such as Church Road, increasing existing congestion and pollution.

“Tailbacks up and down Church Road are [already] extreme,” says reader Debbie Strawford. “Buses are useless [as an alternative] and always full coming home.”

Another reader answering our callout said the scheme will deliver “social injustice” by not only making Church Road busier but creating new congestion on roads further into St George such as Summerhill Road, Air Balloon Road, Hillside Road, Clouds Hill Road, and potentially Crews Hole Road leading down to and along the Avon.

Redfield Educate Together Primary Academy, another place where through-traffic will be blocked. Credit: Alexander Turner

The concern about pushing traffic elsewhere is legitimate, but evidence shows it isn’t always the case. A study on the impact of 46 low-traffic neighbourhoods in London by the University of Westminster seemed to show they reduced traffic within their boundaries without always pushing it onto roads around their edges. 

Another review found strong evidence that low-traffic neighbourhoods cut car journeys in and around the area and encourage people to use other transport. Although they may move some motor traffic to nearby roads in the short-term, this reduces over time. 

When I put this concern to Bristol City Council’s transport chief Don Alexander, he tells me he “[doesn’t] have a problem with asking vehicles to go on the roads they’re intended to be on”.

“We will certainly monitor [congestion], but it’s not necessarily true that everyone would then drive on Church Road,” he says. “They could decide to take the bus, to cycle or to go on the M32.”

How will the liveable neighbourhood impact businesses?

Another common concern is the impact on local businesses – and not only because they could get fewer customers passing through by car. 

Refrigeration engineer Stephen Brown, 56, has lived in the area since childhood. He has questions about the environmental benefits of the scheme, which he says will lead to “a lot more driving” for people like him who drive work vehicles in and out of it.

“I understand you’ve got to do something, but maybe it would be better to have a residents’ pass rather than blocking the roads for everyone,” he says. 

Another local trader adds: “It’s worrying as I design and supply kitchens and bathrooms, so this will make visiting customers difficult. I [already] struggle with parking, the one-way streets and blocked access.”

Credit: Alexander Turner

Alexander says there hasn’t been much official response from businesses so far, compared with pedestrianisation schemes in Cotham Hill and Clifton Village, where there are more cafes and restaurants. 

“The evidence interestingly is that cyclists and walkers spend more than car drivers,” he says, adding that there might be allowances for deliveries, but overall won’t be much inconvenience for businesses. 

“The area’s not being isolated or cut off,” Alexander says. “All that’s happening is people will have to use slightly different ways to get to anywhere they want to.”

Winning people over

It seems that despite the council’s consultation attempts so far, there is a considerable number of people who need to be won over if the scheme is going to be successful. 

At the drop-in event, Alexander tells me there is overall support from councillors, who are “picking up a generally positive feeling, with a lot of very legitimate and helpful questions”.

“I want to win people over as well,” he says. “I’m not an anti-car ideologue. I want to actually make this area better for the residents.”

Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for transport, Councillor Don Alexander. Credit: Alexander Turner

Alexander says the trial will continue for around a year, before the scheme becomes permanent in 2025, and that listening will continue, with the potential to “make changes [and] abandon something if it’s really not working”. He adds that the council has also put bid for the government’s Mini Holland Scheme, which would secure more funding for a larger area of East Bristol to get new walking and cycling infrastructure. 

He acknowledges the flak about public transport alternatives. “I listen and I hear that with some pain because I’m a bus user, I don’t really drive,” Alexander says. “I know it’s not good out there, but I don’t think we can hold up some of the obvious benefits of something like a local neighbourhood scheme.”

“It’s in many ways a public health intervention, not just even a traffic one,” he adds. “We’re talking about clean air, about kids being able to get to school using active travel, people chatting in the street and reducing social isolation.” 

The council has already committed to a second liveable neighbourhood, which Alexander confirms will be in south Bristol, with officers currently exploring where exactly. He says piloting the idea in BS5, one of Bristol’s most diverse areas, offers plenty of scope for learning.

“I want this pilot to work, so we can roll it out all over the city,” Alexander says. “It’s not going to help anything if we don’t take people with us on this one.”

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Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • I started to fill out an ASK Bristol survey about ‘Motivation to change driving behaviour’ The first question asked if I had a driving licence, I said ‘No’ and the survey ended.

    The fact that I didn’t renew my licence should not disqualify me from giving my opinion, considering that I recently bought a new car for my daughter who moved in with me, so that she can take me shopping etc.

    Reply

  • You should visit Leyton in London since their low traffic scene was finished. Kids love it, parents love it, cat owners are happy… unfortunately house values are soaring because so many new people want to to live there!

    Reply

  • Putting physical obstructions in the path of emergency vehicles is an anti-human policy, and can only be seen as such. This “scheme” will definitely cost livelihoods, and has the very real potential to cost lives.

    Reply

  • Where will the money come from to maintain the roads that are closed to traffic? Plus, will general traffic road tax be lowered now that so many roads are closing?

    Reply

  • Car drivers have been degrading everyone else’s lives for generations. It’s time for them to be mildly inconvenienced. Well done the council!

    But also, schemes like this depend on good public transport options, more work is needed on that, otherwise the drivers will have a valid point.

    Reply

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